Thursday, December 22, 2011

Naked in the Stream: Isle Royale Stories by Vic Foerster

Book Review by Zinta Aistars
· Paperback: 288 pages
· Publisher: Arbutus Press, 2010
· Price: $19.95
· ISBN-10: 1933926228
· ISBN-13: 978-1933926223
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the U.P., is easily one of my favorite areas around, and within that, the Keweenaw Peninsula. On a clear day, standing on the Keweenaw and looking across the sparkling mirror of Lake Superior, one can just see the outline of Isle Royale on the horizon. Somehow, getting there has long evaded me, even as I have lived on and now often travel to the Keweenaw to rejuvenate my spirit. That must change, and soon—and so, in that effort to at last make that wilderness adventure happen, I decided to pick up a book about Isle Royale written by someone who really knows the island.
Vic Foerster, arborist by trade, is a resident of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the Lower Peninsula, but has been making annual trips to Isle Royale for nearly 40 years. So many wonderful and wild places to go, but there is no place as pristine, he says, as Isle Royale for the true wilderness experience. (I had the pleasure of interviewing Vic Foerster in December 2011 for a local radio station, and got to ask questions that go even beyond what he shares with readers in this collection of 18 stories.)
Naked in the Stream is reading pleasure. Foerster’s writing style is clean and clear, flowing as a river, and his stories educate and enchant, inspire and amuse. He is not afraid to look a tad foolish, as he writes about his initial lack of expertise in the wild, unable to sleep in his flimsy tent as two randy moose do a boisterous mating dance just outside. He often lets Ken, his frequent travel companion and fishing buddy, take the limelight and outshine him in ability to catch the bigger fish sooner, or withstand the obstacles and challenges of the trail.
There are some great fish stories in this collection, but also insights into the differences between camping in solitude, camping with a best buddy, or camping with one’s child. Since the stories cover such an extended time span, there are interesting differences to observe in the experience (such as few if any female campers to later become predominantly female campers), although these usually pertain to the traveler and, happily, not to the island itself, which has more or less remained the same—wild and beautiful.
My favorites among the stories were about the man who crosses the watery distance between Isle Royale and the Keweenaw Peninsula (anyone who is at all acquainted with Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake, will know this is a dangerous proposition) alone in a kayak, and the story of how Foerster’s enchantment with the Keweenaw began. This beginning is actually the very last story in the collection, and once read, it feels right just there.
Worthy of note is the cover artist and illustrator, Joyce Koskenmaki. The cover is being sold as a poster, and it is beautiful with its midnight blue, dotted with stars, empty boat on the mirror of the lake below. Her illustrations also lead into each of the stories.
Vic Foerster writes that Isle Royale is the least visited of all our national parks. Difficulty in reaching it seems to be the reason why, but a part of me cheers for that—one wants at least a few parts of the earth to remain as they are, untamed. His book lets others enjoy it vicariously, but for some of us, inspire an itinerary …

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